Can Alcohol & Beef Increase the Risk of Breast Cancer in Men?by Carissa Andrews - March 19th, 2018
Did you know men make up 1% of all breast cancer diagnoses? Though definitely rarer than for women, approximately one in 1,000 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year (roughly 2,500). Of those, nearly 500 of them will not make it. The problem for many men is the fact they’re diagnosed at a much later stage—which can drastically impact their outcome. In fact, women with breast cancer live, on average, two years longer than men who are diagnosed—simply because men don’t realize they’re susceptible too.
When you couple this sobering statistic with the fact most people still aren’t aware men can even get breast cancer – it can leave a lot of people shell-shocked. There are a variety of risk factors men (and women) need to understand about this aggressive form of cancer if they’re to see the symptoms for what they are and act fast. Beyond hereditary and genetic risk factors, lifestyle and dietary choices of many Americans can be leading them straight down a road toward breast cancer. Even, and perhaps especially, the men.
Are you a fan of booze? You might want to reconsider reaching for that next beer. Heavy drinking is known to increase the risk of breast cancer in both men and women. This likely is due to the impact alcohol has on the liver. Men with liver issues (due to drinking or otherwise) have low levels of testosterone, but higher than normal levels of estrogen. The liver plays an important role in the way hormones are carried throughout the blood. If the liver is damaged, the binding proteins that carry the hormones can fail—leading to hormonal imbalances.
Besides alcohol, other risks factors that affect your liver should also be taken into account. They can both have the same imbalanced effect, which can up your risk for male breast cancer. They include:
• Liver disease (Cirrhosis, etc.)
• Viral hepatitis
Beef and Dairy Risks
Surprisingly, in the United States, the simple act of drinking milk, or eating beef, cheese, or any other animal byproduct that’s been hormonally injected to for growth, can put you at risk for developing breast cancer. The United States Department of Agriculture doesn’t regulate estrogen or estrogen-like hormones used in meat or milk production, claiming there is no risk and cannot be differentiated from the hormones produced naturally. Unfortunately, much of the world disagrees—as does the increase in estrogen-related issues happening due to exposure.
While estrogen, in and of itself, is a naturally occurring hormone—too much can cause a host of health issues from obesity, to early puberty, to mutations in cells that lead to cancer.
Besides getting unintentionally dosed with too much estrogen via the food we eat, men who take estrogen-related drugs are also at risk. If you’re taking hormone therapy to treat prostate cancer, or if you are a transgender individual taking high doses of estrogen as part of a sex reassignment, you need to be alerted to this risk and take precautions through monthly self-exams and doctor visits.
Blood relatives who have had breast cancer (or other hormone related cancers such as testicular, ovarian, etc.) increase the risks for other family members. According to the American Cancer Society, 1 out of 5 men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer themselves have, or have had, a close relative of either sex, with the disease.
Family history of breast cancerIf you have a family history of breast cancer—both female and male—it’s best to start screening and doing monthly breast exams, even if you’re a man.
Klinefelter SyndromeMen who have been diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome are genetically predisposed to getting breast cancer later on in life. This is because the genetic abnormality is the result of an extra copy of the X chromosome. While it can be detected at birth, many men aren’t even aware they have this syndrome, as it doesn’t become an issue until it affects testicular growth, testosterone production, or causes infertility.
Other genetic mutationsInherited gene mutations can also increase a man’s risk for developing breast cancer. If you are curious if you carry a defective gene which can contribute to breast cancer, see a genetics counselor for a consultation. Mutations in these four genes have been linked to male breast cancer:
Other Risk Factors
There’s a big, wide world out there. Unfortunately, there are a few additional risk factors men should be aware of in regard to developing breast cancer. These include:
AgingOn average, men who develop breast cancer are about 68 years old before they’re diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. This is because of many of the risks we’ve already discussed. The longer high levels of estrogen are free to roam around, the better your chances are of developing cancer and diseases of all sorts.
ObesityUnfortunately, obesity has been linked to breast cancer in both men and women. Remember when we talked about too much estrogen? Too much fat in the body converts testosterone to estrogen, increasing the level of estrogen in the body. When you combine this with the other estrogen raising risk factors, you may be more at risk than most. Reducing your weight with regular exercise and eating heathy may reduce your risk—along with other diseases obesity can spur on.
Radiation exposureMen who have been exposed to radiation at work, or for a treatment of some kind (such as treating lymphoma), have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Symptoms of Male Breast Cancer
The symptoms of breast cancer in men can be similar to that in women. If you’re concerned you, or a man you love may have breast cancer, these are the symptoms you should be looking for:
• Painless lump beneath the nipple is most clinical symptom
• Dimpling or puckering of the skin
• Nipple retraction
• Redness or scaling of the skin
• Nipple discharge (bloody or opaque)
If the breast cancer has spread to other tissues of the body, there can be a host of other symptoms, depending on what areas of the body are affected. It’s important that if you spot anything unusual, to go see a doctor right away in the hopes of warding off metastasizing,
What’s the Process for Diagnosis and Treatment?
If any of the symptoms we talked about in the previous section are ringing some bells with you, it’s time to go see a doctor. While the first visit will be a basic evaluation, the overall stages for male breast cancer are diagnosed and treated exactly the same as they are for women (staged from 0 to IV).
Below are the treatments and tests you can expect to go through on your breast cancer journey. Each will give you a better idea of what type of cancer you’re looking at, as well as the next step to take in order to eradicate it.
• CT Scans
• Hormonal therapy (such as taking Femara to lower estrogen levels)
While there’s no way to wholly prevent breast cancer in men or women, knowing the risk factors setting you up for a predisposition is still a good step toward prevention. Then, what isn’t prevented, can hopefully be detected with plenty of time to eradicate it. Remember, the mortality rate for men who develop breast cancer is much higher than women simply because they don’t think it can happen to them. Don’t be a statistic. Get seen as soon as you detect anything unusual.
Carissa Andrews is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and author. You can learn more about her at her website.
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